Bipolar Disorder and Low Self-Esteem

Bipolar Disorder & Low Self-Esteem | >> Click to Read!It makes sense that our self-esteem declines during depressive episodes, but for many of us, bipolar disorder and low self-esteem is an ongoing struggle. In fact, studies show that low mood and self-esteem significantly relate to both depression and mania, and their increased fluctuations. While other studies conclude that instability of self-esteem and affect is present in bipolar patients, even when our symptoms are in remission, and has previously been found in people at genetic risk of the disorder. Also that it may be a marker of vulnerability to the disorder.

But why? And what can we do about it?

In this blog post, I’m going to explore various causes of low self-esteem, including one that’s greatly overlooked. I’ll share ways to overcome the overlooked obstacle. Then I’ll go on to share ways to raise your self-esteem!

Self-esteem {noun}: a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect.

What Leads to Low Self-Esteem in People Living with Bipolar Disorder?

Some possibilities are:

Learning that we have a lifelong illness. Coming to terms with the fact that we have to take medication for the rest of our lives, if we so choose that method of treatment. Then there’s dealing with stigma, societal and self-imposed. And many of us fight a silent, internal conflict over losing the ability to do things we were once able to do; like work. Some of us have to apply for disability and then deal with the concept of being disabled, along with the stigma that goes with receiving disability payments.

You may enjoy: Bipolar Disorder, Disability, & Stigma

We also have to fend off lots of self-negativity, like depression’s lies… “your family would be better off without you.” I wrote about this in a post entitled The Burden of Severe Mental Illness. Most of us battle anxiety too. Anxiety loves to tell us that we’re not good enough, that we’re going to fail, and that the worst is going to happen – always. And some of us live with suicidal ideation. Many of us carry these messages around with us daily. But still, we’re fighting. Every. Day. In many different ways, ways that most don’t even begin to understand.

However, an often overlooked cause of low self-esteem in people living with bipolar disorder is rumination.

» Coping Tools «

Rumination, Bipolar Disorder and Low Self-Esteem

Rumination is “sometimes referred to as a “silent” mental health problem because its impact is often underestimated.” This is according to a BBC article entitled Rumination: The Danger of Dwelling. It goes on to site a study consisted of a total of 32,827 people from 172 countries who took part in an online stress test devised by the BBC’s Lab UK and psychologists at the University of Liverpool, making it the biggest study of its kind ever undertaken in the UK. It found that, “people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they’d experienced many negative events in their lives.” Another, bipolar-related study, found that higher levels of rumination were associated with lower self-esteem.

Each of these studies concluded that our response styles, how we respond to and/or cope with traumatic and stressful life events, play a bigger role in our mental health than the stressors themselves.

Basically, we need to learn self-serving coping tools and keep rumination to a minimum. A healthy amount of self-reflection aids in self-growth and problem-solving. But when we begin to dwell, rumination can cause undesirable consequences. We’ve all been guilty of replaying conversations in our heads, worrying that we may have said something wrong. Or dwelling on that one bad thing. But we can stop.

Ruminate Less

  • Psychotherapy: The same study that found that higher levels of rumination were associated with lower levels of self-esteem also found that psychotherapy improved rumination. I love psychotherapy! I often walk out of therapy sessions feeling enlightened. Therapists can help you see things you didn’t even know existed. But they can also help you problem-solve issues that you bring to them. By seeing a therapist, you’re investing in your health and practicing good self-care. You may enjoy: The Reason I Love Psychotherapy
  • Keep a worry journal: Make sure it’s next your bed every night, as bedtime seems to be worry’s most active time. This has worked well for my daughter who suffers from anxiety. She used to get overwhelmed with school. But writing her worries down each night before bed eased her mind by letting her feel as though she could put her worries to rest for the night without the added worry of forgetting something. It was all right there in the journal. If she just had to pick her worries back-up in the morning, they were all there in her journal for her to do so.
  • Apply logic: Ask yourself if you have any control over what you’re ruminating over, usually we don’t. Can you change it? Often we can’t. If you can, do you intend to? How? If you can’t, let it go! I’m not a religious person, however, the beginning of the Serenity Prayer helped me through early sobriety: ” … grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference… “ I’m a “take what I need and leave the rest” type of person. And I hope that’s what you do here at The Sunny Shadow =-)
  • Practice Mindfulness: This may sound counterintuitive, but my experience has been that when I focus on the present moment only, it’s damn near impossible to worry about the past or future. The key is to do this in a non-judgmental way. You may enjoy: Add Mindfulness to Your Daily Routine!
  • View difficult times and mistakes as “Self-Growth Opportunities”: We all go through hard times and we all make mistakes, big ones! Sometimes, there’s nothing we can do to change our past mistakes besides learn and grow from them. Think about how much stronger you will be when you make it to the other side.

Self-Compassion: It's Okay! | >> Click to Read!

Raise Your Self-Esteem

  • Accept Who You Are TODAY: Bipolar disorder can rob us of our identities. Suddenly we may feel like someone we don’t recognize. Perhaps we’re not capable of doing things we once were. And yes, it sucks. But it’s not the end of the world. As a matter of fact, it may be just the beginning! I’ve had to make major life adjustments since my diagnosis 13 years ago. Admittedly, sometimes I wonder where I’d be in my interior design career had bipolar not stolen it away. But I’ve uncovered other passions and talents I never knew I had. And I’m fulfilled. We all change and grow over time, and almost no one’s life goes according to plan. At some point, we have to make the best of our situation and go with it!
  • Adopt a Self-Growth Mentality: I believe self-growth to be a grossly underestimated component of mental health recovery. Good therapy fosters self-growth. And to me, self-growth is different from self-improvement. To me, self-improvement implies that something’s wrong with you. Self-growth, however, is a personal, lifetime journey in which we and our views evolve. And we discover new things about ourselves and the world around us. Adopting this mentality creates an optimistic mindset of adventure. It naturally instills self-worth, and yes, it involves self-reflection. But if guided by a skilled therapist, that self-reflection will produce rewards rather than rumination.
  • Find out what fulfills you, then do it: People make the mistake of chasing happiness. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, not a state of being. When you’re fulfilled, you don’t have much time to worry. And chances are, what fulfills you is something that you’re naturally good at. Regularly engaging in what fulfills you will keep your self-esteem up.
  • Accept & offer support: You are NOT alone in your diagnosis and it’s crucial that you know this. Connecting with others who also live with bipolar disorder has given me tremendous strength when I’ve felt that I didn’t have any. However, being there for others and offering hope and strength when I’m able to raises my self-esteem and strengthens my recovery. If you have bipolar II disorder, this bipolar2 subreddit is trying to build its community. I think it’s a great place to connect with others.
  • Build a coping toolbox that works against bipolar disorder’s lies: Depression and anxiety are liars. They seek out our vulnerabilities and feed on them. We have to adopt an outside view and disconnect ourselves from our illness. We are not bipolar disorder, or depression, or anxiety. Or mania for that matter. They all lie to us. When those lies become intense, we have to find ways to ignore them. Maybe we keep ourselves distracted? We have to figure out what coping tools work best for us in each situation. We have to fill-up a coping toolbox. This means planning ahead. {More to come on the coping toolbox!}
  • Repeat positive affirmations: Maybe you say these every morning in the mirror and throughout the day as necessary. But we have to develop a healthy self-dialog to combat the lies that our disorder feeds us.
  • Don’t compare: The only person we should compare ourselves to is the person we were yesterday. But let go of perfection, because it doesn’t exist. Decide what your “good enough” is. If you achieve it, awesome! If you surpass it, awesome too! Of course this is easy for me to say. I’m admittedly a perfectionist. Hey, I don’t want to blow smoke. Just because I know what I need to do doesn’t mean I always do it. I’m on my own journey of self-growth here too!
  • Try something new from time-to-time: This keeps us feeling fresh, young, and adventurous. It keeps our spirits up. And it’s just fun. Even if it doesn’t always turn out well, at least we’ll have a fun story to tell.
  • Every night, write down at least one thing you did good that day: We’re so hard on ourselves. We never miss the bad that we do, but we often skip over the good. Give yourself some credit! You deserve it! You’re awesome!
  • On starting projects and not finishing them: This is a common symptom of our disorder. Many of us have active, creative minds that generate lots of great ideas, even when we’re not manic. But when manic, our minds work overtime and our thinking often becomes grandiose in nature. We think every idea is genius! To thwart this, we can start by dedicating a place in our phone (because we always have it with us) to jot down our ideas. And before we act on them, we need to get honest with ourselves. Consider our last projects, why we quit them and at what point. Ask ourselves if this project or task is something we can realistically take on and if our motives are pure in doing so. Also, try to only work on one project at a time. I know, hard stuff. Make manageable to-do lists, chunking together like tasks. If you feel like quitting but really want the project finished, start setting a timer for 15-minute increments and work in small bursts. Disclosure: These are tips I found, I don’t necessarily do all of these. I intend to though!

Do you, or have you ever, struggled with bipolar disorder and low self-esteem? How do {did} you combat it?

Stay Strong,


SOURCES: Stability of self-esteem in bipolar disorder: comparisons among remitted bipolar patients, remitted unipolar patients and healthy controls {8/2/2007; Rebecca Knowles, Sara Tai, Steven H Jones, Julie Highfield, Richard Morriss, andRichard P Bentall} | The Dynamics of Mood and Coping in Bipolar Disorder: Longitudinal Investigations of the Inter-Relationship between Affect, Self-Esteem and Response Styles {8/26/2013; Hana Pavlickova, Filippo Varese, Angela Smith, Inez Myin-Germeys, Oliver H. Turnbull, Richard Emsley, Richard P. Bentall} | Symptom-specific self-referential cognitive processes in bipolar disorder: a longitudinal analysis {11/30/2012; H. Pavlickova, F. Varese, O. Turnbull, J. Scotta3, R. Morriss, P. Kinderman, E. Paykel and R. P. Bentall} | Rumination: The Danger of Dwelling {10/17/2013; Denise Winterman}



  1. Oh my gosh Krista if I could finish just one thing….sigh….I get so depressed because I have a ton of grandiose ideas and none of them pan out then my therapist has to remind me of my root belief system. I love my therapist. I should marry him…oh wait, that’s mania talking ☺

  2. Laura Tolley Brown

    I love your articles because I always learn something. Today, I learned that there is a name for that thing I do when I wake up in the middle of the night. It’s called rumination. And knowing what it is is the first step towards stopping it. Thank you for all of the work that you do for all of us!

  3. Starting projects and not finishing them, or taking forever to finish them, is very much me. I’m learning to filter what I can and know I’m likely to complete out from the bad choices. I’m learning to say NO to people who want me to help them with their projects. That’s hard.

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